MIAMI — Cypriot native Garo Yepremian, the former NFL kicker who helped the Miami Dolphins win consecutive NFL championships but is best remembered for a Super Bowl blooper, died of cancer on Friday at the age of 70.
Yepremian’s wife, Maritza, said he died at a hospital in Media, Pennsylvania. His illness was diagnosed in May 2014, she said.
Yepremian played from 1966 to 1981 after arriving in the United States at age 22 and kicking in the first NFL game he ever saw.
His 37-yard field goal in the second overtime ended the longest game in NFL history, a Dolphins’ playoff victory over Kansas City on Christmas 1971, and he helped Miami win back-to-back NFL titles in 1972-73.
But Yepremian’s gaffe in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl in January 1973 nearly spoiled the Dolphins’ bid to complete a perfect season.
With Miami leading the game 14-0 and on the verge of finishing the season with a 17-0 record, the Washington Redskins blocked Yepremian’s field-goal attempt. He picked up the ball and tried to throw it but fumbled, and the Redskins’ Mike Bass ran it 49 yards for a touchdown.
“Every airport you go to, people point to you and say, ‘Here’s the guy who screwed up in the Super Bowl,’” Yepremian said in a 2007 interview. “After a while it bothers you. If it was anybody else he would go crazy, but fortunately I’m a happy-go-lucky guy.”
Decades later, Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Don Shula was able to laugh as he reminisced about the play — perhaps the weirdest in Super Bowl history.
“I thought, ‘Boy, this will be great if Garo kicks this field goal and we go ahead 17-0 in a 17-0 season. What a great way that would be to remember the game,’” Shula said. “And then Garo did what he did, and it’s 14-7 with still a couple of minutes to go. I’m looking for Garo, and I’m ready to kill Garo, and I couldn’t find him. He went down to one end of the bench, and I haven’t seen him since.”
Despite Yepremian’s mistake, Miami won that game to complete the NFL’s only perfect season. Yepremian also kicked for the Dolphins when they repeated as champions in 1973. Prematurely bald and only 5-foot-8, the left-legged Yepremian hardly looked like an NFL star.
He broke in with the Detroit Lions, who signed him as their first soccer-style kicker when that side-footed kicking style was a novelty. As a rookie in 1966 he broke a league record with six field goals in a game at Minnesota.
He joined the Dolphins in 1970, made the Pro Bowl twice with them and led the league in field-goal accuracy three times. He also kicked for the New Orleans Saints and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Private funeral arrangements are pending. A viewing is planned May 20 in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania.